Everyone knows that physical exercise is important for good health and staying in shape. But what about exercise for the mind?
The same concept applies to keeping your mind strong and operating at peak-performance. Mental exercises are especially important if you’re looking for ways to improve your focus.
What exactly are mental exercises?
You may be imagining physical exercises and wondering how you can get a workout for your brain.
The good news is that the concept of mental exercises is much simpler to grasp and you can use every day.
Essentially, these exercises refer to any type of activity that stimulates and challenges the mind.
Why should I do this?
Have you ever worried about keeping your mind sharp as you get older? Would you like to delay or even avoid memory loss and dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease?
There are many benefits to keeping your mind actively challenged.
Scientists continue to do important research in this field. Existing studies show that it is possible to decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by regularly challenging your mind.
Research studies have also shown that it is possible for the brain’s powers to improve, including focus and other cognitive abilities.
What kinds of mental exercises are good for me?
It’s important to keep in mind that some activities are better for the mind than others.
For example, playing Candy Crush is entertaining and uses up your mental energy. But it’s not the best way to develop the sharpest mind.
For optimal results, choose activities that have one or more of the following characteristics:
- Challenging activities that test your brain and entice it to think out-of-the box.
- Something that is new and fresh — the mind loves learning new information and skills.
- Engaging and interesting activities will keep both you and your mind entertained. And you won’t give up if you have a sense of enjoyment.
- Important note: Don’t find new activities that you’re already good at it. For instance, an English professor may not find crossword puzzles very challenging. Or if you’re a math pro then working on simple addition problems isn’t going to be difficult for you to solve.
Below are 9 activities geared towards improving your focus and concentration.
Review and see if there are any that interest you and that you can incorporate into your daily routine. Your mind will thank you in the long run.
1. Explore new things
Seek out new hobbies, new ideas, join groups to meet new people, and stay curious about life and the world. Try to always stay open to new experiences.
The brain enjoys new, fresh activities. It’s designed to develop through learning and processing new information.
Do things you enjoy while at the same time keeping your mind working and happy.
Start a new hobby
Find something new that interests you. Try cooking, gardening, painting, crafts, building model airplanes, among many other choices for hobbies.
Take an educational class on a topic that’s always interested you. Try history, philosophy, writing, or psychology. There are thousands of different areas you can explore to open up your mind to new ideas.
Learn a new language
You can learn and master a new language at any age.
It’s a great skill to have not just for your resume or visiting foreign countries. Studies have found that learning a new language improves the brain’s cognitive functions.
This process trains the brain to be super-sharp. The brain has to work harder to enable listening, understanding and speaking the new language. Increased focus is also required to switch back and forth between the two languages.
Learn about other cultures
Keep up-to-date on world news and developments in other cultures. This will help you see the world in a new way and expand your existing set of ideas. Your mind will also grow from this exposure as well.
2. Shake up your routines
It’s just human nature to adopt routines in our daily lives that help us complete tasks in a faster way.
But the problem with always doing things the same way is that the mind runs on auto-pilot. It is not faced with many new challenges to continue to grow and develop.
The good news is that you can take daily routines and simply try a new way of approaching the tasks. Shaking up your routines will give your mind new reasons to think. It will have a huge benefit on your cognitive powers.
For example, try new recipes and different types of food. Take a different way for your daily jog or drive to work. Instead of checking Facebook, try reading a new blog.
3. Visualization for coping and learning
Are you constantly stressed and worried? One way that can help you cope and become more relaxed is to use the powers of positive visualization.
Catch yourself when you start having negative thoughts. Picture a pleasant scene or happy memory instead.
Focus on the visual image and observe everything. The view, the sounds, the smells, and the feelings that are conjured. Dwelling on the positive and calming images will help to relieve the tension in both your mind and body.
Practice your technique
Visualization can also help you improve your tennis game. Sounds impossible?
Research studies have shown that mental practice can significantly enhance the performance in sports and other activities.
You can imagine practicing your favorite sport, or any activity that you would like to learn proficiently. Visualization will help you improve your skills.
Meditation is an exercise to help you become fully aware and mentally present. It enables you to block all external factors and distractions. It’s a great way to train the mind to relax, focus, and improve creativity and positive thoughts.
There are many different meditation techniques with various goals. For instance, concentration meditation involves focusing on a single item.
It could be a visual item in front of you such as a candle flame. It could also be something intangible such as repeating a single word in your mind, or focusing on your breathing.
Every time you notice your mind drifting away, you refocus your attention on that single item. You don’t allow distracting thoughts to steal your attention away from the single item.
Benefits of meditation
The wide variety of meditation techniques help to promote many benefits. Some examples include improved mental strength, coping with stress, and enhancing positive emotions such as compassion and generosity. There are also many health benefits such as lowering high blood pressure.
Why not try it out?
Most people are wary of meditation until they give it a try and find out the benefits for themselves.
Why not test it out for yourself? Start with baby steps. Choose a technique that interests you and gradually increase your meditation time. You have nothing to lose but many benefits to gain
If you’d like to find out more or how to get started, a good site to check out is MeditationOasis.com. The site also provides many resources and information on meditation techniques.
5. Get social
Humans are social creatures by nature. We seek connections with other people to experience happiness and fulfillment in life.
People play a big role in our lives. So it’s not surprising that they also have a huge effect on the development of our minds.
Many research studies have shown the importance and positive effect of having a great support group of family and friends. As a result, we are more motivated, healthier, happier and live longer.
Being social is not just fun. Scientists have also found that our cognitive abilities strengthen by having more social engagement.
It’s easy to get caught up with our hectic and busy schedules and not have much time for social activities. But it’s also important to try to take a break and meet up with friends and family. You’ll have a great time and your mind will be better off too.
6. Never stop reading
Reading may seem like a simple activity. Something that we started learning back in early childhood and mastered over the years.
But reading is, in fact, a challenging activity and involves many areas of the brain working together. The mind processes the words and translates them into a visual story, along with dialogue and sound effects.
Reading has many benefits including improving your knowledge, vocabulary and thinking abilities. Even if you don’t think you’re a great reader, it’s possible for everyone to improve. You just need practice.
You’ll never get bored
There is a huge variety of reading material. You’ll always find something that interests and entertains you.
When was the last time you read a great book?
Set a goal for yourself to increase the frequency of your reading and maintain on a regular basis. Aim for a book per week or every two weeks, depending what you can fit in your schedule.
Also try to steadily increase the complexity of the reading material as you go along. This will help boost your brain power even further.
If you don’t trust your motivation or willpower, why not join a book club?
Participating in a group will help keep your reading deadlines on track.
7. Can you hear the music playing?
Music is a powerful tool. It not only improves our mood and energy levels, but it stimulates every part of the brain. Simply listening to music can help strengthen the mind.
But actually playing a musical instrument or singing has an even stronger effect on the mind. These activities improve neural processing, memory, spatial ability and motor control.
Below is a great video prepared by TED-Ed lessons that shows why musicians have enhanced brain powers.
Video credits: TED-Ed lessons. Written by Anita Collins. Animated by Sharon Colman Graham.
8. Sports and exercise
Regular exercise helps you stay in shape and improves your health. It also improves your mental and emotional states and helps to reduce stress. You’ll be happier and more positive.
Why not learn a new sport and incorporate into your existing exercise routine? The novelty of a new sport will satisfy the mind’s cravings for new and interesting things. And the physical activity will continue to reap the benefits for your health.
Sports will also improve your balance, motor and coordination skills. You can also join groups or teams to make the activities more fun in a social setting.
Target practice, anyone?
Aiming for a target can be a great mental exercise to challenge the mind.
It requires the use of all cognitive functions, hand-eye coordination and motor skills to pull off this task. There is also a great sense of accomplishment once the target is reached.
Along with the entertainment value, there are many games and sports that are effective for training the mind. Some examples are darts, billiards, bowling, soccer, basketball, racquet sports, among many others.
9. Play mind games
There is a huge selection of brain games that you can play in-person and with others (such as chess and board games). You can also download from the internet or as apps for mobile devices.
Simply search for “mind games” or “brain games” on the iTunes App Store or the Google Play Store. You’ll see a wide variety of choices that come up.
Some great examples of games to enhance logic and strategic thinking:
- Crossword puzzles
- Jigsaw Puzzles
Lumosity and FitBrains
Lumosity and FitBrains are two popular games developed by neuroscientists. The primary goal of these games is to encourage regular brain training.
There are many different activities within the games to test the various cognitive functions: focus, problem solving, memory, processing speed, language and visual-spatial abilities.
To find out more information and start playing, you can visit the websites or simply download the apps for iOS and Android.
Once you master a specific activity, it’s important to move on to something new. This is the only way to continue challenging the brain.
You don’t want the mind to ever becomes stalled and bored with routine tasks or things you’ve mastered.
So remember to look for new activities on a regular basis and keep your mind actively engaged. You’ll help to prevent cognitive decline and promote a healthy brain.
The benefits of a stronger mind will be there for you for the long run.
What are your thoughts?
Which mental exercises are you currently practicing or planning to start? We’d love to hear any thoughts you have. Please leave a comment below.